This diagram was published in the July 2009 blog post Business Information Technology by Steve Tuck of Datanomic, and was based on a conference conversation with Gwen Thomas of the Data Governance Institute, about the figurative wall, prevalent in most organizations, which literally separates the Business, who usually own its data and understand its use in making critical daily business decisions, from Information Technology (IT), who usually own and maintain the hardware and software infrastructure of its enterprise data architecture.
The success of all enterprise information initiatives requires that this wall be torn down, ending the conflict between the Business and IT, and forging a new collaborative union that Steve and Gwen called Business Information Technology.
Isn’t IT a part of the Business?
In his recent blog post Isn’t IT a Part of “the Business”?, Winston Chen of Kalido examined this common challenge, remarking how “IT is often a cost center playing a supporting role for the frontline functions. But Finance is a cost center, too. Is Finance really the Business? How about Human Resources? We don’t hear HR people talk about the Business versus HR, do we?”
“Key words are important in setting the tone for communication,” Winston explained. “When our language suggests IT is not a part of the Business, it cements a damaging us-versus-them mentality.”
“It leads to isolation. What we need today, more than ever, is close collaboration.”
Earlier this year in his blog post “Purple People”: The Key to BI Success, Wayne Eckerson of TDWI used a colorful analogy to discuss this common challenge within the context of business intelligence (BI) programs.
Wayne explained that the color purple is formed by mixing two primary colors: red and blue. These colors symbolize strong, distinct, and independent perspectives. Wayne used red to represent IT and blue to represent the Business.
Purple People, according to Wayne, “are key intermediaries who can reconcile the Business and IT and forge a strong and lasting partnership that delivers real value to the organization.”
“Pure technologists or pure business people can’t harness BI successfully. BI needs Purple People to forge tight partnerships between business people and technologists and harness information for business gain.”
I agree with Wayne, but I believe all enterprise information initiatives, and not just BI, need Purple People for success.
Tearing down the Business-IT Wall
My overly dramatic blog post title is obviously a reference to the famous speech by United States President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987. For more than 25 years, the Berlin Wall had stood as a symbol of not only a divided Germany and divided political ideologies, but more importantly, it was both a figurative and literal symbol of a deeper human divide.
Although Reagan’s speech was merely symbolic of the numerous and complex factors that eventually lead to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, symbolism is a powerful aspect of human culture—including corporate culture.
The Business-IT Wall is only a figurative wall, but it literally separates the Business and IT in most organizations today.
So much has been written about the need for Business-IT Collaboration on successful enterprise information initiatives that the message is often ignored because people are sick and tired of hearing about it.
However, although there are other barriers to success, and people, process, and technology are all important, by far the most important factor for true and lasting success to be possible is—people—collaborating.
Organizations must remove all symbolic obstacles, both figurative and literal, which contribute to the human divide preventing enterprise-wide collaboration within their unique corporate culture.
As for the Business-IT Wall, and all other similar barriers to our collaboration and success, the time is long overdue for us to:
Tear down this wall!